Before there were numerous iterations of Blazblue there were countless upgraded releases of the Guilty Gear games. However after the Blazblue series rose to prominence, gamers have had to wait nearly seven years for another proper fighting game in the Guilty Gear series and now that Aksys Games and Arc System Works have brought Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- to the PlayStation 4, is it everything fans have been waiting for?
With a roster featuring as many elaborate and strange characters, a number of which have been in every Guilty Gear title so far, the personalities of the fighters in Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-‘s roster are quite a sight to see. Unfortunately this doesn’t translate especially well into the actual game as most of the personality we see from these characters comes from their interactions with other fighters before and after a match. The standard “Arcade Mode” that features a brief unique cutscene at the beginning and some extra bits of dialogue near the end before closing out with another short cutscene unique to that fighter does very little to explain what is actually about to happen in the story nor does it really delve into the various happenings in the world.
Instead players should take the default Arcade ending as a prologue to the actual story mode which is an almost entirely cinematic experience that plays out more like an anime than anything else. Players will be able to save at any time, but for the most part the story mode is something to sit back and enjoy, especially with how gorgeous the game looks, but more on that later. Most of the enjoyment comes from being able to follow everything that is happening between the characters and the various terms and mythology used throughout.
Thankfully the game features a pull up glossary to explain various terms and give background information of certain events to help fill in some gaps, allowing even newcomers to have some sort of grasp on the story, though chances are even veterans will need to pull it up from time to time for a refresher course. That being said, it would be nice if this cinematic story was broken up in some way similar to how Blazblue occasionally featured the occasional simplistic fight instead of simply placing chapter markers in various places to remind players they can move to the other modes if they wish.
Those who are familiar with the Guilty Gear franchise will immediately be able to recognize that only a few minor adjustments to the game’s mechanics have been made in this title and that means that this is far from an easy title to jump into as there are no auto combos or anything else. As such newer players are almost required to visit the game’s funny but informative tutorial section, but even then a lot of the deeper mechanics are still left to be discovered by the player.
While it may seem a bit simple at first, as players will be using combinations of punches, kicks, slashes, heavy slashes, dusts (launch attacks), and more. These standard attacks are all similar to how one would expect with the slash attacks being more unpredictable and similar to the character’s fighting style. Now while I mentioned that there are no auto combos, there are Gatling Combos that are relatively simple to learn and can be quite useful to newcomers but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
You see, while most special moves make use of quarter circle analog stick moves or half rotations combined with a button press or two that is about as easy as it can be. You see, each special move requires a certain tension meter meaning that players must always act aggressively as defending for too long can not only cause a guard break but also lower your tension gauge. Mixed in with all of these mechanics are two burst types, clashes, instant kills, instant defense, meters to watch, three different types of roman cancels, stuns, blitzing and more.
This means that although players will be able to get by on the minimum if they wish, there are a lot of complicated mechanics happening in almost every battle and unless you learn how to perform them, you’ll find yourself losing more often than not. Though this complication does create some amazing looking matches. Thankfully alongside the aforementioned tutorial, there are various missions and challenges that players can undertake to better learn their favorite characters and the rest of the rosters’ styles meaning that there is plenty to get the player up to speed as long as they try everything out.
As for the roster itself, some will find missing fan favorites to be disappointing as well as the initial roster of fifteen (not counting the two DLC characters, though at the time of this writing Elphelt is still free DLC) fighters, one of which requires a lot of grinding to unlock to be a bit anemic. That being said, quantity doesn’t always equal quality and here we have a game that prioritized quality as each of these fighters have unique fighting styles and are completely different feeling from one another.
Once you feel like you are up to the task, you’ll find a rather fun take on online gameplay. Players can select various lobbies from around the world, including those closest to their home location with each lobby able to contain up to sixty four players. Rooms can be created in these lobbies and while players can choose to search for either ranked matches or join these rooms, the fasted and often most fun option is the latter of the two. If you do search for a ranked match, you will be able to train offline while waiting for an opponent to pop up.
Once you enter a player match room, that can be locked or feature various modifications depending on the room creator, players will be able to either wait or spectate if they wish, but instead of having to wait around you can in fact take part in a match right away most likely. This is because each room features four cabinet style set ups similar to Japanese arcades and you can either choose to sit at an empty one and wait for someone or join someone else and quickly begin a match that has always performed smoothly for me. Combine this with the cross-play between the PlayStation 4 version and the PlayStation 3 version and you’ll always be able find a suitable match in little time.
The most outstanding aspect of Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- is in the graphics department and that is because the developers really knocked it out of the park with this one. By creating 3D models on a 2D plane, Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- is easily the best looking 2D fighting game I have ever seen and likely will be for quite some time as it will be hard to top the blended style of the Guilty Gear franchise with the superb animation techniques used with these characters.
With a slew of varied backgrounds for these fights to take place against, every fight is gorgeously presented. Even the camera moves around dynamically whenever a special move is performed and lands and if you happen to nail an insta-kill attack then prepare for a gorgeously designed finishing attack. The entire game feels almost like an anime, especially when you consider that these exact same animation techniques are then transferred into the story mode as well as the fact that the title never experiences any slowdown on the PlayStation 4, even when the fanciest techniques are flying across the screen.
Thankfully Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- features the original Japanese voice track to go along with the English voice track. I say that because, unfortunately, most of the English voice work sounds terrible by most standards with only the occasional character sounding decent. As such players will likely prefer listening to the original Japanese voice track for everything outside of a middle of a battle, since that is the only time subtitles are not automatically present.
One of the things that the Guilty Gear series has always been known for is its rock soundtrack and Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- lives up to that legacy by featuring some amazing sounding tracks used to make every battle feel faster paced than ever before. If there is anything to complain bout here, is that it feels like the list of tracks in the game is actually lower than previous titles, but what is offered here is quite excellent.
Guilty Gear fans have had to wait for a long time but the wait has been worth it as Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- is one of the best 2D fighters in a long time. With breathtakingly gorgeous visuals that we have never seen implemented in a fighting game and fast paced combat that is everything fans loved, the only thing that fans could ask for are some of their favorite characters back. While not very newcomer friendly, Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- should be a must-have for any fighting game fan this new generation.
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